“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
You may have heard the news that Vic Gundotra, the chief who launched Google+, is leaving the search company and the speculation that followed the announcement, which can be summarized to “the beginning of the end for Google+”. But is this really the end for the social network that failed to reach the mass acceptance of Facebook and Twitter? Let’s dig deeper into what has happened to Google+ since its launch in 2011 and the most plausible predictions about its future.
1. Google+ won’t just disappear.
It’s not that we’re 100% certain, but it’s a prediction that has enough proof to support it. Google+ will see reassignment of some of its staff but this logistical moving cannot shake the social network. Google is not planning to kill Google+, reassures Chief Architect Yonatan Zunger; in fact, they are working on new features. This current hubbub regarding Google+ can probably be considered as more of a PR disaster than anything else. Let’s not forget that Google+ is a platform and not just some added-on product (like Google Reader for example) that can be killed at any given moment. As of October 2013 it’s estimated that Google+ has reached 300 million active users.
It’s important to consider that Google+ can actually be split into two products or concepts. Google+ is the background account we all use to log into Google products. It’s where our personal details are stored. It’s the same as a Microsoft Live ID or Apple ID. The ambition of these companies is to have their users create single sign-ins and use the account to interact with all their services. And then there is Google+ as a social stream, which people use in a similar way to Facebook or Twitter.
That leads us to another prediction which is…
2. Google+ as a social stream brand may lose its emphasis.
Google+ may not be going away in the long run, but it’s quite possible that the brand may be de-emphasised. Three years in and Google+ still hasn’t been adopted in the same way that Facebook or Twitter have. Google+ has very loyal users though and 300 million is a lot, however, advocates actually need to defend the platform which is not a good position for any brand. In some quarters the name Google+ has become almost interchangeable with the words “ghost town”, “failure” and “Facebook wannabe”, often very unfairly.
Whereas in reality it can be considered as a great platform with a lot of flexibility. But can this perception be overcome? Maybe it will be a good thing if Google+ does see a significant change. As a digital marketing agency, we value Google+ and we’ve seen good traffic coming to our website from the platform. We also spend time in communities engaging with fellow businesses.
Is Google+ the go-to social network for businesses looking to build connections? At this point we would have to say not really. In fact in our experience its LinkedIn that still generates the best ‘social’ business connections. Is Google+ the essential platform to ensure you improve your SEO? Absa-frackin-lutely.
3. Google+ as a social stream isn’t part of the future.
And neither are other mega social network platforms for that matter. Or at least that’s the growing common perception – the future of social media is in micro-network apps, such as SnapChat, WhatsApp and Instagram. Proof of this mutually perceived perception can be seen in the the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp by Facebook and Vine by Twitter. These apps keep their independence while the bigger social network actually complements the smaller one. Could that be why the Google Hangouts team are (allegedly) moving to Android?
Of course Facebook is very popular, but a growing number feel uneasy about posting a message on someone else’s timeline unless they have a birthday. It’s known as “Facebook Fatigue” and explained by a 2013 Princeton University study which claims that by 2017 Facebook will have lost 80% of the users it had in 2013. It’s a bold statement which has been severely criticised by Facebook (read their official reply). The model was run against MySpace and proved to be accurate about the rapid decline of the network, however, past performance is no guarantee of future gains or losses.
With Facebook having more senior members (40+ is the fastest growing demographic, and on Google+ for that matter) and with their attitude to privacy being very different this may also account for some of the decline in commenting.
Facebook was the first ‘major’ social network to react to its users rapidly shifting to mobile, devising new revenue streams along the way. The future of social networks lies in the younger generation who simply want to connect and stay away from the fuss of the big networks. Lets face it, our kids are embarrassed we are in the social spaces – they want their freedom. And who wants to express themselves on a platform where a potential future boss will discover an indiscreet post from many years ago and hold it against you?
One of the natural responses of big networks (Google+ actually led the way) was to offer segmentation options to its users. Google+ introduced Circles and shortly after Facebook seized on the potential and quickly revamped its own Friends lists. However, there is still a problem – not many users actually use lists or can be bothered to spend time on them. On Google+ it takes a long time to organize all contacts into neat lists and interact with each in a different way, sharing targeted information. Those with OCD tendencies may relish the task, however, it’s a task and the tin cans in the cupboard are possibly easier. Even though lists are great in theory, they don’t always match up with the way we interact with people in real life. Paul probably inconveniently sits in multiple categories, it’s not just Jazz, it’s bebop, fusion, post-bop, etc.
That is where micro-network apps come in handy. Apps such as WhatsApp and SnapChat are successful for two main reasons: they are easily accessible on mobile (where users spend most of their time) and they allow easy engagement with selected friends. People are moving to private social communities, or networks and they want to protect their interaction.
4. Google+ has had success already.
The brand Google+ may have had a PR disaster that will be the subject of many books for many years, but the platform has had true success.
In the beginning Google+ was introduced as a better alternative to Facebook – with better privacy settings (thanks to the circles) and in general – a breath of fresh air; a platform that your mum and dad won’t invade (not anymore) and also one that is connected with Gmail and YouTube.
However, the momentum Facebook had appears to have been too strong to overcome. So even if Google+ has not become a household name, it has brought a radical restructuring of Google, making it better prepared for the future.
Google now have the best data about their users, they know what city they live in, often where they work, sometimes where they went to school, they can make good assumptions about what they like and dislike, etc. With the tying up of all Google products in the Google+ platform this allows Google the advertising company to display better results in their search engine and more targeted ads to appear when using Google products.
Not too long ago Google made another big change which infuriated a significant amount of Google+ users – they could now comment on YouTube only via their Google+ profiles. Yet another reason to remain forever logged in.
So the truth is Google+ was the catalyst that allowed Google to unify its services, reach an even larger amount of accounts and keep those users logged in and synced on all their devices. Not bad.
5. Where to, Google+?
Whenever a Google+ spokesperson speaks at a conference, they’d always point out the advantages of the social network for brands. And we agree – Google+ has a vast list of communities and a lot of active users that make engagement quite easy. Not to mention the importance of a Google+ author and publisher presence for SEO purposes.
Hangouts has provided a free way to have a conference video call and a great way to handle small webinars or virtual workshops. Only now has Skype decided to make all its group video calls free as well.
Six months ago Google+ spokespeople started talking about another change. It was all about Google+ Sign In for webmasters and developers. The shift in emphasis seems to suggest that Google is keen to solidify the one-stop platform. And app developers and webmasters can incorporate the G+ Sign in and thus have access to a much deeper level of user behaviour and data.
With Google we never really know where their attention will switch to in another six months. Let’s hope Google+ social stream will not go the way of Google Wave (hello and say goodbye), otherwise where would all these crazy gif images of cats whacking dogs go?
Where do you see the future of Google+? Does your business use the platform for customer engagement? Let us know in the comment box below.